Blazers Improve to 2-1 on Trip
By mikebarrett Posted in: Grizzlies
You never over think a win away from home. You take breaks when you get them, and don’t sweat it if a victory isn’t as attractive as you would have liked. A road win is a road win.
The fact that the Trail Blazers have now recorded two wins on this difficult four-game trip means they are now playing with house money.
It’s time to get greedy.
I heard the predictions many people were making before this trip began, and they were understandable. New York had been 12-2 at home, Toronto had won 7 of its last 8, and Memphis was 13-3 at home. One win would have probably been acceptable. A split of the trip would be cause for celebration, but three wins? Well, no need to go there just yet.
On Friday night, the Trail Blazers faced a Memphis team without one of its big guns. Zach Randolph was battling flu-like symptoms, and was a game-time decision. We learned just before we hit the air that he was ruled out completely. It’s always a mixed blessing when this happens right before a game. Yes, it was a break for Portland, but it does often open the door for someone else. And, it always invites an “x factor” into play.
Memphis has a pretty capable backup at the power-forward spot, and Marreesse Speights put up Z-Bo-type numbers. He ended with 22 points and 13 rebounds, but the Blazers were able to grind out a hard-earned victory. Portland doesn’t often win ugly, as we’ve talked about, but they did it in this game, beating the Grizzlies 86-84. It’s the lowest point total in a win for Portland this season.
The Blazers also rarely win when they don’t shoot well. They came into this game 12-1 when shooting just 45 percent or better. That sounds impressive, but that simply illustrates how much pressure they put on the offensive side of the ball. They win games with offense, not with defense.
One thing that did hold true was the stat that reflects Portland’s record of success in close games. They are now 8-2 in games decided by six points or fewer. Memphis, on the other hand, fell to 0-6 in games decided by five points or fewer. That’s fairly surprising given the 20-9 record they had going into this game.
The Trail Blazers are now not only 2-1 on the trip, but have improved to 17-15 on the season, 11-5 since the start of December, and have inched up a spot in the Western Conference. Yes, it’s still early, but they now sit in the 7th position in the conference. There aren’t many people who expected that, even considering the fact that we’re in early January.
We’ve said many times this season that it’s a process- learning a new system, adapting to a new coach, and integrating new, young players. But, this recent trend is very encouraging.
This game was expected to be a low-scoring, defensive struggle. The first three quarters were certainly that. The fourth quarter was simply a slugfest. Early in the season Portland didn’t win games like this.
The Blazers shot just 41 percent in this contest, and shot just 67 percent at the free-throw line. But, after allowing Toronto to shoot 53 percent on Wednesday, Portland tightened up defensively, allowing Memphis to shoot just 40 percent as a team.
Portland held a two-point lead in the closing seconds, and clinched the victory with another defensive stop. Rudy Gay had a chance to send the game to overtime, but his off-balance heave from the top of the key was well off the mark and the Blazers ran to the locker room, and shortly after, to the airport.
It took Wesley Matthews a couple of games to get his offensive back, and it was badly missed when he was out. Matthews carried the Blazers early in the third quarter, when the Grizzlies were threatening to build a lead, and ended the game with 21 points, and hit 5 of his 8 three-point attempts.
For Portland to win this game, or even stay in it, we said before the game the frontline had to come up big. As it turned out, both LaMarcus Aldridge and JJ Hickson each ended with double-doubles. Aldridge had 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots. Hickson ended with 19 points, 11 rebounds, and hit two clutch free throws in the final minute.
Damian Lillard, who was the focus of the Memphis defense, finished with 11 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds, and Nic Batum, who had his hands full trying to contain Gay, ended with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.
As described above, the trip has already been a success. That made it even nicer to hear the players talking about nothing but the Minnesota game as they were getting on the plane to fly to Minneapolis. They know what was expected of them going into the trip. They’ve already been surprising, and now hope to make it 3 of 4.